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Vermont Law School
Published July 2010
South Royalton, Vermont
A relatively young law school, Vermont Law School has been fully accredited by the ABA since 1978. Located in the tiny town of South Royalton, Vermont educates a total of 567 students, all full-time.
Admission and Cost
With 25th-75th percentile LSATs of 152-158, and GPAs of 3.05-3.57, Vermont’s admissions statistics are very typical of the third tier. One aspect of admissions that does distinguish Vermont is the school’s acceptance rate – at 66.7% (590 of 884), the highest of any law school in the nation. Of those accepted, 233 decided to enroll, giving Vermont a more respectable matriculation rate of 39 percent.
Do not be fooled by the name – Vermont is a private school, not public. Thus the tuition is both the same for in- and out-of-state students, and also very steep: $40,420 annually. And unfortunately, Vermont is not particularly generous with financial aid. The 25th – 75th percentiles of grant aid ranged only from $5,000 to $13,000 a year. And although merit- and need-based scholarships are also available, the average Vermont Law student graduates with over $122,000 in debt. Unlike many of its peers, however, Vermont does have a loan-forgiveness program in place. Though understandably not as generous as schools in the first tier, the school’s LRAP assists graduates who work specifically in low paying, public sector jobs.
First year students at Vermont take all the typical first-year courses – Contracts, CivPro I & II, ConLaw I & II, Torts, Property, Criminal Law, Legal Writing I & II, and Legal Research and Writing – with no electives. After the first year, the remaining required courses are determined by a student’s chosen degree path, with the remainder of his/her schedule filled with a variety of classes and clinics. For “students with busy schedules,” Vermont offers an extended J.D, to be completed in four years instead of three.
One particular area of study at Vermont deserves mention: environmental law. Vermont’s program is currently ranked number one by U.S. News and World Report; in the last 18 years, Vermont was never ranked lower than second, as has been ranked first 12 times. The school also offers the Masters in Environmental Law and Policy degree, an innovative course of study that can be earned in combination with the J.D, or can stand alone. Though this is the only dual program with both degrees earned from Vermont, several other dual degrees – many focusing on different aspects of environmental law – are offered with partner schools both domestic and foreign, including Yale, Cambridge, and Dartmouth. Other than the Vermont Law Review, the school’s only other journal is (unsurprisingly) the Vermont Journal of Environmental Law.
Quality of Life
Hardly unexpectedly, life in South Royalton can be a bit slow. With a total population of only about 2,600 inhabitants, the town lacks many of the staples of urban or suburban life – shopping malls, movie theaters, large grocery stores, etc. – to say nothing of the museums, sports teams, and other tourist destinations bigger cities have to offer. As TLS user rustbeltchick puts it: “you definitely need to learn how to make your own fun.”
However, all is not lost. Hanover (home to Dartmouth University) is only about 30 minutes away and offers a few more luxuries of civilization. Boston and Montréal are each only about 3 hours away by automobile, if the student craves a truly urban setting. And of course, South Royalton itself is home to great natural beauty – arguably some of America’s best hiking locales can be found all around.
Life at the school itself seems to be enjoyable. Students at Vermont are generally described with adjectives like “relaxed” and “laid-back,” giving the impression that the school lacks some of the cutthroat behavior often seen at lower-ranked schools. However, a caveat for the minority student: Vermont is 80% white, with no other ethnic group making up more than 3% of the student body. Like the state in which it is located, diversity is not a staple of life at Vermont Law.
Life After Graduation
Employment at Vermont is a bit of a mixed bag. Lacking a major market nearby, Vermont graduates spread throughout the country, with most either remaining in New England or spreading down the Atlantic coast into the Carolinas, Georgia, and Florida. In New York – the state in which the greatest number of graduates took the bar exam – the school’s 83% pass rate is slightly higher than the 80% state average.
Vermont is atypical of the third tier in that only about half of the school’s graduates go into the private sector. Given the school’s focus on environmental law, it perhaps less surprising that almost 15% – a high amount, especially by third-tier standards –of graduates enters the public sector. About the same amount secure government positions of some sort or another. Vermont is a typical tier three in terms of academia (less than 1% of graduates), and clerkships – nearly 15% total, but only 3% clerk for federal judges.
Salaries at Vermont are less than encouraging. Even with only 54% of eligible graduates reporting, the median starting salary in the private sector is only $65,000. And for the many graduates who enter the public sector, the $43,000 starting salary is even grimmer. Such low salaries mean that Vermont graduates are likely to struggle with debt for years and decades after graduation.
For a student interested in environmental law, and who doesn’t mind living in insular South Royalton, Vermont can certainly be a good start to a legal career. However, the tuition is extremely steep, and employment statistics suggest that most graduates struggle with debt for many years. Since Vermont is, in fact, a private school with no distinction between in- and out-of-state tuition, it is difficult to fully recommend the school unless an admitted student is awarded a hefty scholarship to offset the expense.
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